DHL Express MENA's CEO discusses company progress and impact of eCommerce on air cargo

Nour Suliman serves as the chief executive officer for DHL Express MENA.
Over the last year, DHL Express has added flights from Morocco to Paris, UAE to Bahrain, as well as new connections from Tangiers to Europe, Algeria to Marseille and Cairo, Amman, and Beirut.
Over the last year, DHL Express has added flights from Morocco to Paris, UAE to Bahrain, as well as new connections from Tangiers to Europe, Algeria to Marseille and Cairo, Amman, and Beirut.

AVB: Could you start by sharing some details on how DHL Express has expanded its network over the last year? Any notable air routes added over 2018?

Nour Suliman: In 2012 we embarked on a regional expansion to intensify DHL’s reach, logistics capacities and capabilities across key regional states in an effort to enhance transit times, and support the growing logistical demands of our MENA clients. Since then we have opened eight multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art gateways across the MENA, whilst almost doubling DHL’s Aviation touch points and boosting our domestic and international flights to over 160 per week.

Our infrastructure investments were complemented by cash injections to upgrade DHL’s regional air network, increase flight frequencies and connectivity. We added more flights into KSA, which makes up a major part of our business, and we are now flying widebody operations to both Riyadh and Jeddah from our regional HUB in Bahrain. DHL Express flies 12 rotations per week into Riyadh, one daily flight into Jeddah, and more recently we added a weekly service into Dammam.

We also added more flights from Morocco to Paris, UAE to Bahrain which remain vital links in the logistics chain; and new connections from Tangiers to Europe, Algeria to Marseille and Cairo, Amman, and Beirut to the airports served by DHL in the region. We also expanded our portfolio to include Asian lanes, and drive in more traffic to and from countries like Pakistan and India.

AVB: What changes have you made to your fleet over the past few years and how will your fleet evolve moving forward?

NS: We have been upgrading our fleet at a rapid pace. We have moved away from the legacy Boeing 727s, upgrading these aircraft to a uniform fleet of Boeing 767’s operating on our Bahrain Aircraft Operating Certificate (AOC).  These more fuel efficient machines allow us to access more locations with greater capacity, capability and efficiency. We have 11 aircraft based in the Gulf region and we continue to plan further network expansion and reach over the coming years. We are always analysing our network and finding ways to get into different markets faster and more efficiently.

The de-regulation of fuel prices is a constant concern; especially for a company the size of DHL. It has had an impact on our costs, but we have looked at ways to re-engineer the way we operate in order to get better efficiency. We load aircraft and trucks more efficiently, we reduce the number of loads by improving the density and so on. We don’t reduce the schedules though, that’s fundamental.

AVB: Are there any notable air partnerships secured with the last year and what impact have they had on your business?

NS: Air partnerships remain an important part of our business model. The ability to access 220 countries across the world on a daily basis, means we have to have strong partnerships to facilitate that reach requirement. As with our own operated network, we are continually looking at ways to get into the market quicker and improve the service experience for our customers.

AVB: What would you highlight as the current challenges of the air transport market and do you expect these issues to carry over into the new year?

NS: Demand for freighter aircraft is high under current market conditions. Having an ongoing supply of the right type of aviation equipment is a ‘must have’ for us. With a Global Fleet of our size, we are continually replenishing, developing and improving, keeping up with this demand is a challenge and keeps us very busy.

AVB: How has the advent of eCommerce evolved DHL’s aviation business and where has it shifted the focus towards?

NS: eCommerce has been rapidly growing in the region bringing with it enormous opportunities for the express delivery industry. We are seeing a retail boom, and more importantly the surfacing of more online shoppers who are attracted to international e-marketplaces as it becomes easier and easier to access these goods. Our role is to give buyers that sense of confidence that they can have the world at their doorstep within 24 hours but also help retailers stay competitive through cost-effective, innovative solutions to reach their B2C market.

DHL Express is traditionally known for its international B2B delivery, but in recent years we have steered our focus to strengthen our eCommerce footing and grow our market share in this segment.

We have taken a closer look at our Express Time Definite services and invested in our air networks to facilitate better transit times. The demands of the eCommerce vertical have forced us to shift mindsets and re-align our processes in order to accommodate rising customer and retailer demands, as well as the ability and flexibility in our Aviation network to adapt to volume spikes and swings.

There are specific times in the year where we see huge volume increases in this business segment, and having an Aviation capability to be able to ramp up activity in these times is of absolute importance. This can come in the form of additional flights, doubling up on existing rotations or increasing our commitments with our air partners.

AVB: Will the upcoming DXB runway closure impact your business? If so, how are you manoeuvring your operations to cope with the temporary closure?

NS: We are not expecting any significant business impact, however, we are looking at alternative routings and flight patterns in account of the single runway operation at DXB during the period of disruption. The plans in place include redirecting or new time allocations for our flights and trucks, as well as adding more resources on the ground to ensure zero impact on our customers.

AVB: Is there anything you can share about your 2019 network expansion plans, as well as your strategy for the new year?

NS: eCommerce remains a key focus area for us. Keeping on top of the shifts in world trade and how we adapt to those challenges is always key. From a network perspective, we see an opportunity to increase activity between Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and we hope to add capacity to our Middle East to East Africa operations in the coming year. We will continue to look at how best to leverage on our facility investments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, be it by adding more flight frequencies or by re-designing our routings to deliver greater capability.

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